Inside Hong Kong’s only English-speaking care home – a far cry from government-run facilities for the elderly

A place at the China Coast Community does not come cheap, but the service is superior to that offered in government-run homes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 10:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 10:03am

Cecilia Gomez, 88, has been living in Hong Kong’s sole English-speaking care home – the China Coast Community – for just over one year. Half Macanese and half Brazilian, she came to the home in Kowloon Tong after her ninth and final sibling passed away. Her nieces and nephews all live abroad, and she says she would rather live in a care home than impose herself on them.

“It’s OK here. At first I found it a bit strange but now I’m getting used to it,” she says.

Gomez suffers from the occasional dizzy spells and has high blood pressure, but generally seems to be in good health. She says she enjoys the home’s physiotherapy and bingo sessions, as well as the food.

“I enjoy the mix of cuisines here – some European and some Cantonese,” she says. “I also like the company; I like to talk. If I did not talk, I would feel funny. I have never lived alone before.”

Although Gomez’s life is perhaps not enviable, she is relatively lucky compared with the majority of Hong Kong’s elderly.

The reality is that many old Hongkongers would struggle to afford the fees being charged by private homes.

Currently, about 60,000 people in the city are said to be in need of long-term care homes, but this figure is expected to double to 125,000 by 2051.

A report by the Consumer Council in 2015 found the monthly fees at 85 private homes ranged significantly – from HK$4,500 to HK$21,000 – and the level of care they provided also differed widely.

Another report written by experts from five universities on behalf of the Elderly Commission, a government advisory body, said city planning rules should be updated to allow for elderly care facilities on all housing estates. The Elderly Services Programme Plan said more work was needed to create a positive image of the elderly in Hong Kong.

Life at China Coast, with its high standards of care, costs significantly more than in a government-run care home. Ten heavily subsidised beds are reserved for people receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, but the home has to make up the shortfall, about HK$500,000, through donations.

It’s a far cry from life in government homes, which although much cheaper at about HK$1,994 a month, have frequently been hit by neglect and even sex abuse scandals.

Meanwhile at China Coast, residents appear well looked after, with some hoping to stay temporarily before they resume independent living.

Ted, an 87-year-old retired journalist, arrived at the home just before Christmas last year after a fall left him with a badly sprained ankle. The painkillers he took subsequently left him with some short-term memory loss. Originally from Cheshire in the UK, he has lived in Hong Kong since 1955. He says he does not want to become dependent on his nurses and support workers.

“I do not want to spend the rest of my life here,” he says. “I do not want to get into a situation where I have ‘over care’.”

One of Ted’s daughters lives in Hong Kong and runs a modelling agency, while the rest of his family live in New Zealand, San Francisco and the UK. He says he wants to enjoy the rest of his retirement in Hong Kong, adding that he has so far enjoyed his stay at China Coast.

“They are very obliging and loving here,” he says.

Founded in 1978, China Coast started as a residence for just eight English-speaking elderly people in Hong Kong, after the dean of St John’s Cathedral, the Reverend Stephen Sidebotham, decided they were not being catered for in the city.

Residents were typically former engineers, police officers and government workers. Some were Chinese who had spent long periods in the US, or expats who had settled permanently in Hong Kong.

The home has since grown to house 39 residents, and has a full waiting list, but its owners have said they are always open to new inquiries. A feasibility study, due for completion in November, is currently under way to see how the facility can be expanded and rebuilt in the next few years.

These days, many of the residents are non-native but long-term Hongkongers whose children have moved overseas, or native Hongkongers who lived overseas for a significant period before returning to their home city.

General manager Michele McGregor, a former nurse from Australia who has been in charge for just over one year, says allowing residents to speak their first language certainly improves their well-being.

“I think it is important; it is a matter of comfort,” she says. “People enjoy what they knew best when they were young. I think you need to feel comfortable when you are older.”

The home works on the principle of “ageing in place”, meaning residents, who are given individual rooms, can stay there for the rest of their lives. It offers some hospice care but does not solely offer that. It began offering some short-term rehabilitative places for patients last year.

Some residents suffer from dementia, while others have cardiac problems or have suffered strokes.

Residents are offered a range of activities, which are run by home staff and volunteers.

McGregor says the volunteers’ contributions are essential for the smooth running of the home.

“We could not do it without [them],” she says. “We find the residents do not need any encouragement to take part. They are waiting for this every month.”

The home became a licensed care and attention home in 2000 and is subject to licensing spot checks by the government’s Social Welfare Fepartment.

It was founded on Christian principles but multiple nationalities and religions are now represented. Established with a donation from the Jockey Club and an interest-free loan from the government, it continues to rely on donations and will hold its major annual fundraising day on December 2.

McGregor says one of her main aims is to ensure residents feel like they are living as independently as possible.

“We offer them lots of respect – we give them choices,” she says. “It does not matter if they are 80 or 90 years old. They are allowed to go out. It is very free-flowing; they make their own decisions.”

Three luxury alternatives for the elderly

Option 1: Take a cruise

Cost: HK$35,800 for 18 days

What you get: a trip from Hong Kong to Dubai via Singapore and Thailand. The tour on the Pacific Princess, offered by Princess Cruises, includes a range of Western meals with waiter service, as well as access to a spa, theatre, night club, casino and several bars.

Option 2: Three-star hotel

Cost: HK$3,600 for seven nights

What you get: a week’s stay in a superior double room at the JJ Hotel in Wan Chai comes with access to a TV and DVD player. Guests can play pool, darts and use ironing and massage services. They also receive one dining or happy hour coupon for use during their stay.

Option 3: Private hospital

Cost: at least $3,800 per night for your own room

What you get: at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley, patients are offered high- quality, 24/7 health care. Private rooms include a DVD player, telephone, Wi-fi, refrigerator, electronic safe and bathroom.